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SR-71, The Blackbird

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SR-71, The Blackbird

Old 30th Dec 2018, 02:56
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SR-71, The Blackbird

My older son give me a copy of "SR-71, The Complete Illustrated History of the Blackbird, the World's Highest, Fastest Plane" as a Christmas present. Once I started reading it I couldn't put it down. A fantastic collection of facts and figures, such as a pilot surviving after his aircraft disintegrated in a banked turn at Mach 3.2, tyre pressures were 400psi, hydraulic system pressure was 6,000psi, the radar system weighed slightly over 1,200 pounds (545kg) and one aircraft flew, intentionally, with a P&W JT57 engine on one side and a P&W JT58 on the other, I also learned about "sheep dipping" etc, etc.
Management of the engine intake spike was critical and had to be done manually - and frequently. Here was an exceptional aircraft but the USAF's Strategic Air Command, who operated the aircraft, had other priorities and were quick to get rid of it as it didn't fit into their "mission".
If the CIA had taken over management of the aircraft I'm sure it would be still flying today, with fully digitized systems.
The book is written by Col. Richard H. Graham, USAF (Ret) and is published by Zenith Press, ISBN: 978-0-7603-5448-3.
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Old 30th Dec 2018, 07:09
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I think you will find many similar comments and threads (mentioning that book) already on the forum. A quick search pulled up this reference from 2004: Sr-71 Info

Edit: Another mention from 2013: Brian Shul - Flying the SR71
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Old 30th Dec 2018, 08:56
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Brian Shul also wrote The Untouchables -
Amazon Amazon

Sled Driver and The Untouchables are available in a limited edition set, but they're expensive...
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Old 30th Dec 2018, 11:20
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Although, now living in Texas, Rich used to fly out of Mildenhall & flew the fist successful overflight of the USSR from Mildenhall. His Daughter married a Brit & settled down in the UK, as a result Rich is a frequent visitor to these shores.
I went down to Duxford several years ago where he gave a very interesting talk on his SR-71 experiences. On YouTube he explains the Cockpit Checkout procedure, just in case you manage to get your hands on one !!
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Old 30th Dec 2018, 23:41
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"...first successful over-flight of the Soviet Union"....so easy to say....and the full significance of the statement is so elusive as was the aircraft itself.
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Old 31st Dec 2018, 01:06
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Salute!

Can even see the Dash-1 if yu're interested in the Blackbird:
SR-71 Online - The Blackbird Archive

Gums sends...
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Old 31st Dec 2018, 01:35
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and in the Seattle Museum of Flight the M-21 Blackbird with Drone mounted

Lockheed M-21 Blackbird The Museum of Flight
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Old 31st Dec 2018, 03:16
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Brian Shul and Rich Graham famously do not get along decades later. Graham tells of an incident where Shul was less than candid about his whereabouts when reports came in of an SR doing a unauthorized buzz job in burner for a photo shoot. Months later Shul supposedly was in a deployment bar bragging about how he got away with one and word got back to Colonel Graham. Mission voice recorder tapes from the archive were pulled and Shul and backseater Walter Watson kept their wings but never flew the SR again.

A former colleague who flew the SR-71 claims that Shul is persona non grata among the Blackbird alumni after someone told the Air Force Office of Special Investigations about security risks due to illicit affairs between crewmembers and locals in Mildenhall and Kadena. With the TS/SCI clearance significant contact with foreign nationals is a mandatory report. My former colleague feels that Shul was the source of the tip that initiated the OSI investigation.

Whatever the case, Brian Shul has kissed the Blarney Stone and is a terrific speaker.


Years ago I somewhat accidentally bluffed my way into the X-plane hangar at the USAF Museum unaccompanied in between organized tour groups. A nice docent came up to chat while I was admiring the YF-12A. If I understood him correctly, he said that he had flown the A-12, YF-12A and the SR-71. His name was something like Meacham or Mecam. I haven't found a similar name on the Blackbird crew lists online or in the books I have, anybody have a lead on this? I tried sending a note to the Roadrunners Internationale web master but got no reply.

Last edited by Airbubba; 31st Dec 2018 at 17:19.
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Old 31st Dec 2018, 05:06
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Back 25 or 30 years ago, they used to have an airshow at Paine Field every year (I sometimes think Boeing may have taken steps to discourage the airshow when they figured out the hit they took on productivity when everyone went outside on the preceding Thursday/Friday to watch some of the various aircraft arrive and the Thunderbird's practice ).
Anyway, one year they had an SR-71 come in for the airshow. It was only a static display during the show, but I was outside for a lunchtime jog on Friday when it arrived - the pilot put on quite a show before he landed. Watching it, I kept thinking that it didn't look real - almost like something out of a Hollywood special effects department.
Monday, the SR-71 departed just as I was headed out to my car after work - again the pilot put on quite a show, then pointed it south, with about a 45 degree up angle, lit the afterburners (reheat), and quickly disappeared into the distance.
Impressive aircraft - that they designed it over 50 years ago using slide-rules just makes it that more impressive.
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Old 31st Dec 2018, 06:50
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VIProds; Prior to reading the book I too thought that the SR-71 would almost have certainly flown over the USSR, Russia and China during its service (..."flew the fist successful overflight of the USSR from Mildenhall."). However the author, on Page 86, states quite categorically that "....One of the biggest myths surrounding the SR-71 reconnaissance program is that the plane has overflown the USSR and China. In truth, neither the A-12 nor the SR-71 has ever overflown the landmass of the USSR or China. after Gary Powers was shot down on 1st May 1960 over Russia, no US President would authorize direct overflights of the two superpowers...."
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Old 31st Dec 2018, 06:52
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and in the Seattle Museum of Flight the M-21 Blackbird with Drone mounted
There is also an SR-71A cockpit that you can sit in. Surprisingly cramped, even without a space suit. Perhaps the sled-drivers were really skinny!
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Old 31st Dec 2018, 08:42
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Bubba - that's very interesting to read.
Shul dines out on that groundspeed story and all sorts of other stuff.
But Col Graham?
All I can say is that my boy met Rich at a certain UK aviation museum - Rich was promoting his book.
We have a photo of the two of them together... one Blackbird driver and a small fella - who's now very inspired to fly jets.
Didn't understand how significant he was until reading this.
Rich is a good guy.
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Old 31st Dec 2018, 08:59
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Originally Posted by The Nr Fairy View Post
Brian Shul also wrote The Untouchables - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Untouchable.../dp/B019NRXHG4

Sled Driver and The Untouchables are available in a limited edition set, but they're expensive...
Sled driver is available on the internet in PDF format. It's very very good.
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Old 31st Dec 2018, 09:33
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Not sure about the SR-71 making the first USSR overflight. Certainly in the early 1950s the RAF's John Crampton and Rex Sanders flew an RB-45 Tornado, with RAF markings to avoid embarrassment for the USA, from Sculthorpe in Norfolk on a radar reconnaisance mission and reached Kiev, which was well before Blackbird time.
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Old 31st Dec 2018, 11:55
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Originally Posted by Sainnt Jack View Post
VIProds; Prior to reading the book I too thought that the SR-71 would almost have certainly flown over the USSR, Russia and China during its service (..."flew the fist successful overflight of the USSR from Mildenhall."). However the author, on Page 86, states quite categorically that "....One of the biggest myths surrounding the SR-71 reconnaissance program is that the plane has overflown the USSR and China. In truth, neither the A-12 nor the SR-71 has ever overflown the landmass of the USSR or China. after Gary Powers was shot down on 1st May 1960 over Russia, no US President would authorize direct overflights of the two superpowers...."
Saint Jack: I read that in the book too. I clearly remember the speaker at Duxford saying he took the SR-71 out into to Barents Sea & wound it up to full power before entering Soviet airspace. It could have been "poetic licence", but it did sound genuine at the time. It's a shame that I didn't record the talk! That being the case, what is the point of having SR-71's? Rather expensive play things. Saying that, I have a list of pilots, RSO's & VIP's that flew in the SR-71 & there are quite a few US Senators mentioned.
AIRBUBBA: I have looked for the names that you mention & the only similarities are::-
Pilots
Maj Brian McCallom 5 May 67
Capt Richard McCrary 8 Apr 81
RSO's
Maj Barry MacKean 8 Sept 78
Capt Joseph McCue 24 Sept 82
Capt Ed McKim 5 Nov 80
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Old 31st Dec 2018, 16:52
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Originally Posted by tdracer View Post
Impressive aircraft - that they designed it over 50 years ago using slide-rules just makes it that more impressive.
A few years ago I visited the Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum at IAD. An SR-71 was parked next to an F-35 in the entrance hall. I remember thinking of the contrast of the design histories of these Lockheeds decades apart.

Originally Posted by VIProds View Post
AIRBUBBA: I have looked for the names that you mention & the only similarities are::-


Thanks for taking a look, I appreciate it.

I did find a possible hit in a 2013 Dayton, Ohio newspaper article. Dayton is near the Air Force Museum.

Former SR-71 pilot Jack Mecham offers his take on why the SR-71 still captivates so many people, “Most people are really enthralled with the SR-71 because it was a different type of aircraft. The world’s fastest. It did things that no other air-breathing aircraft could do.”

...Mecham is well qualified to discuss these spy planes. Besides spending a couple hundred hours flying them, mostly out of the Lockheed plant at Palmdale, Calif., Mecham has a history of flying covert missions in support of the Central Intelligence Agency. He recounts, “In Vietnam, I flew H-3 helicopters in support of the CIA. We weren’t CIA. We were Air Force. The CIA was a customer, but the Air Force had no control over us. My point of contact was the State Department. We didn’t fly any missions in South Vietnam. It was mostly in Laos. I was the first to go north of Hanoi in February of [19]67. That same month, I was the first one to go into Cambodia, which we disavowed for many years.” Mecham flew over 100 combat missions in Vietnam and will share the exploits of his “Black Mariah” helicopter, the helicopter with a bounty on it, at the presentation.
It?s a bird? It?s a plane? It?s both! Dayton City Paper

And another reference to an SR-71 pilot named Jack Mecham in a Corvette forum:

"It's a myth. Flying the top secret A-12, being “civilian pilots” contracted to the CIA, marriage was a requirement. Flying the SR-71 for the USAF, marriage was not required." You could be right. My friend who flew them, Jack Mecham, indeed had to be married. He was a test pilot for the a-12 and then into the sr-71. He continued flying it while it was the sr-71. He said that he and the other pilots had to be married.
https://www.corvetteforum.com/forums...post1588872631

Was Jack Mecham a Plant 42 production test pilot perhaps? Were there missions that are still not recorded in the seemingly exhaustive published logs of Blackbird sorties?
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Old 31st Dec 2018, 17:08
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Buster,

I do believe the reference to the "first over-flight" referred to the first of the Blackbird over flights.

The B-45 flights were earlier....and part of a multi-faceted over flight program that used various make,models, and types of aircraft.

Also....the anti-aircraft threat was much more sophisticated during the Blackbird's time in operation.

Also, the RAF crewed some U-2 flights as well, along with the Taiwanese.

https://fas.org/irp/nsa/maybe_you.pdf
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Old 31st Dec 2018, 17:37
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Originally Posted by Airbubba View Post
Brian Shul and Rich Graham famously do not get along decades later. Graham tells of an incident where Shul was less than candid about his whereabouts when reports came in of an SR doing a unauthorized buzz job in burner for a photo shoot. Months later Shul supposedly was in a deployment bar bragging about how he got away with one and word got back to Colonel Graham. Mission voice recorder tapes from the archive were pulled and Shul and backseater Walter Watson kept their wings but never flew the SR again.
Colonel Graham tells the story of a crew's removal for cause from the 'program' in one of his books (see below) but doesn't give names.

Here's an anecdotal account of the incident from another forum:

I had a most interesting conversation with Col. Rich Graham, former SR-71 pilot, 1st SRS squadron commander and 9th SRW commander while I was at the Oshkosh EAA Airventure today [posted in 2013 - Airbubba]. Recently in an Air Force Association Magazine letters to the editor section there were a few letters including one from General Patrick Halloran about Brian Shul, basically saying he was the only SR-71 pilot removed for cause and that he should not be regarded as any kind of hero Blackbird pilot. Nothing was said about what actually happened.

I asked Col Graham if he could tell me what that was all about, and he was happy to do so. It seems one evening the command post at Beale received several phone calls from people living in nearby Marysville saying a plane had crashed. There were only two jets airborne from Beale at the time, a KC-135 and an SR-71 flown by Shul. Both were contacted and reported no problems. When the SR landed, Col Graham, who was Squadron CC at the time, and another high-up from the wing were there to meet him. Shul and Walter Watson, Shul's RSO, told a believable story explaining what had happened and nothing else was said.

Months later Shul was in England and one evening at the Officer's Club was bragging about lying to the command staff and getting away with it. Word got back to Beale and Col Graham had the mission tapes pulled out of storage. He said that he, the Deputy Wing Commander and Wing Commander listened to the cockpit voice recording and heard Shul and Watson in the cockpit concocting what story they were going to tell. What really happened was that Brian Shul was starting his photography business and wanted photos of an inflight SR-71 lighting off the afterburners at night. He had a friend over at his house, and Brian made several low passes over his house lighting off the burners for the friend to get the photos. The noise is what made the citizens think there was a plane crash. Col Graham said while Watson went along with the story, it was Shul who was behind it. Col. Graham and the wing deputy commander wanted Shul permanently grounded, but the Wing Commander decided to cut him a break, so while removing him from the SR-71 he allowed Shul to continue flying the T-38.

Col Graham also said Shul was breaking regulations by taking a camera into the SR-71 and later T-38 cockpits, but the command staff was unaware he'd been doing that until Shul published his books after leaving the USAF, because everyone who witnessed it figured Shul had permission and so they never reported it. Shul most assuredly did not have permission! Col Graham told me that had he been aware, Shul would have been fired from the program immediately. And they were also unaware of the other things Brian Shul later wrote about, such as flying Mach 3.5 over Libya (Col Graham doubts that number but concedes it might be possible) and nearly stalling the SR-71 while flying an unauthorized fly-by at a small airport in England. Col Graham said had any of those things been brought to his attention Shul would have been immediately fired. Because of all these things Brian Shul is persona non grata to the Blackbird community.

Col Graham stressed that the SR-71 was considered a national treasure and that they all knew any pilot hot-dogging in the airplane could bring major embarrassment to the program, the Air Force and the Nation. Evidently most all of the other Blackbird pilots consider Shul a pariah and want nothing to do with him as well.
Brian Shul and the SR-71 - General Discussion - ARC Discussion Forums

Col. Graham's SR-71 Revealed: The Inside Story (1996) has a similar account of the incident on pages 189-190 with word of the exploit filtering back from Kadena instead of Mildenhall. Col. Graham was 9th SRW Vice Wing Commander in the book version.

Last edited by Airbubba; 31st Dec 2018 at 18:32.
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Old 31st Dec 2018, 19:57
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Salute!

As with all "anti-total" stories and accounts, discretion and judgement is warranted.

I met Brian back in '77 or '78, and do not have the "class picture" handy to nail down the exact dates.
I was an instructor at USAF Air University and he was a student in my section. We had both been in the 356th TFS, and I left the Beach just before he got there. So he got to fly both the Sluf and the Hawg, as that squad was first to go operational in the Hawg. A good connection, that squad, and I got to see him in action for the next 11 weeks and one time a few years later, before his SR-71 tour. He was the premier example of leadership, guts and motivation for his classmates. I did not deal with him after that, but met him in the early 80's as he toured the F-16 community talking about fire protection and what a pilot could do to minimize injury. At Maxwell, I had seen him virtually naked as a part of our atheletic curriculum and can attest to the severity of his burns and such. A real survivor.

His burn scars and visible damage have been greatly reduced since that time. And his crash, burns and recovery are extraordinary. However, he may have received special treatment after his initial recovery, and I feel it was due. He was a sterling example of coming back from the grave and demonstrating what is possible with grit, determination, high pain tolerance and some natural physical conditioning going into the fray ( was damned near Olympic class athelete and very prominent in USAF racquet ball/tennis events. In fact, he was playing tennis the day he had his crash and was burned. You could see the line where his wool socks covered his calves and other "lines" on thighs, hands and then his face.

Brian has great presentations and has been a motivational speaker for a coupla decades, well worth the price of admission. No doubt he had and has a great ego, and it helped him survive a few dozen operations ( I have his autographed copy "26 Operations"). That being said, I would have a hard time with him using that national treasure to enhance personal gain and would not have a hard time believing there was some personal friction involved somewhere in there.

Gums remembers....

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Old 1st Jan 2019, 01:19
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I can remember seeing the Habu's strutting around the O'Club at Mildenhall in their international orange flight suits in the late 1970's.



https://airandspace.si.edu/collectio...ates-air-force

I was at the RAF Mildenhall Air Fete in 1977 which had the F-16 demonstrator and the YC-14 and YC-15 on display. SR-71 17958 (61-7958) was parked on the display ramp with appropriate security.

An Air Force pilot in uniform was at the nose of the plane and an apparent young airman in civvies struck up a conversation. He said he was from some photo unit back in the States and asked if the photo interpreters from Beale were deployed with the detachment. The pilot was obviously uncomfortable and annoyed at this public discussion. The airman persisted and the pilot said let me get your name and unit and I'll check and see if your friends are here. He then escorted the inquisitive spectator into the hangar for what I presume was a little debriefing with security personnel. Probably unrelated but our Navy spooks later told us that a Soviet general was escorted around the planes by an RAF air attaché.

From one of Paul Crickmore's books, when I observed this static display conversation in May of 1977 a Mobile Processing Center had just been deployed to Mildenhall under the direction of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to process the take from PARPRO missions. Maybe just an airman looking for his buddies in the business but it was a very sensitive subject in retrospect.


Photo by Ian Cole

Last edited by Airbubba; 1st Jan 2019 at 18:47.
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